Starship Troopers (1997) was never destined to be a faithful adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s novel of interstellar soldiers in an epic war with an alien race. Not when Paul Verhoeven took over the film.
It all begins a meteor is hurled like an cannonball from the other side of side of the galaxy and into the heart of Brazil. It’s war and, prompted by mass media campaign to sign up for military duty, Earth’s finest and most attractive answer the call and head into space. Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) imagines he’s going to serve with his longtime girlfriend Carmen (Denise Richards) until he’s made a grunt (he serves with fellow soldiers Dina Meyer and Jake Busey) and she becomes a fighter pilot. Their college buddy Carl (Neil Patrick Harris) ends up in what looks suspiciously like a melding of Psy-Ops and the Nazi Gestapo. This is total war against a race of warrior bugs from outer space.
Dutch filmmaker Verhoeven liked to push boundaries and slip satire into his genre pictures, like in Robocop and Total Recall, and he reteamed with Robocop screenwriter Edward Neumeier for his decidedly adult take on Heinlein’s gung-ho science fiction adventure classic. Together they transform the intergalactic platoon movie into a perverse concoction of patriotic fervor, fascist ideology, media satire, and military might, at once thrilling and sinister, energetic and cynical.
It’s no mistake that his enemy aliens are terrifying giant bugs, like something from a nightmare. They play on the innate human aversion to many insects and it makes them easy to see as utterly inhuman. In a breathtaking ambush that ups the ante of Aliens, thousands of the metallic mondo-spiders skitter across the desert plains and over the walls of a derelict fort while a handful of humans fight the onslaught with stuttering machine guns, leaving a wake shattered limbs and splattered bodies.
The cold war mentality and unchallenged authoritarian government come off as a sour satire, as if Verhoeven is attempting to make a point about the way war makes us resist questioning authority. There’s an undercurrent of fascism in the way he presents the control of propaganda and the blind obedience of driven, patriotic soldiers as the costs of victory. Then the blood-rush of the film’s bloody battles and splattery bug hunts (his early use of digital technology is the most impressive and effective of its time) turns it into rousing spectacle. He’s either insidious or out of his head.
Clancy Brown, Michael Ironside, Patrick Muldoon, and Marshall Bell costar.
The visual effects earned an Oscar nomination.
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Starship Troopers [Blu-ray]
Starship Troopers [4K UHD + Blu-ray]
Starship Troopers [DVD]
This deluxe DVD and Blu-ray editions feature commentary by director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Ed Neumeier, a documentary featurette, 5 scenes cut from the finished film, screen tests, special effects sequences, outtakes and other supplements.